Saturday,24 June, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1340, (13 - 19 April 2017)
Saturday,24 June, 2017
Issue 1340, (13 - 19 April 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Latin American predilections

The political commotion in various Latin American nations does not prove that socialism does not work on the continent

Latin American predilections
Latin American predilections

To complement the democratic transition that swept Latin America four decades ago with the rejection of military dictatorships and with left-leaning governments now in the ascendant, the political right's new assertiveness will test democracy on the continent, but not to breaking point.

The continent has recently celebrated the 35th anniversary of what has come to be known as the third wave of democratisation in the region, with a further phase from 2013 to 2016 further cementing the democratisation process.

However, the continent’s emergent democracies have seen a lack of trust among young people in particular in the new political establishments. Right-wing parties have made a significant comeback.

The western media insists that Latin American democracy is going through a difficult time. Predictions that the continent will turn away from left have not come to pass, however.

Brazilian president Michel Temer may have succeeded the leftist Dilma Rousseff. But Chile's left-wing president Michele Bachelet continues to be popular. In Ecuador, opposition leader Cesar Monge, leader of the right-wing CREO Party, said that his party would “remain vigilant” after the results of the country’s elections declared leftist Lenin Moreno the winner.

Yet, other left-wing parties on the continent are teetering on the edge, including in Venezuela.

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has urged the country's Supreme Court to review the ruling that Venezuela's right-wing controlled Congress be stripped of its powers "to maintain institutional stability.”

The Court had backed leftist president Maduro in his ongoing struggles with the legislature. Last Tuesday, it removed parliamentary immunity from the assembly's members. In its original ruling, the Court had annulled the powers of the assembly, allowing the judges to write the laws. This week, President Madura said that the escalation of the protests paved the way for an Imperialist invasion of Venezuela and is a plot by right-wing forces to derail the Bolivarian Revolution launched by his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez.

The Venezuelan Congress had been trying to take over control, much to the consternation of leftists, and the country’s Supreme Court had accused Venezuelan lawmakers of "contempt" after allegations of irregularities by three opposition lawmakers during the 2015 elections. This week's developments in the country will reverberate across Latin America.

The reversal of the fortunes of the left in Venezuela was not replicated in Ecuador, however, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, in asylum in the country’s embassy in London, called on the right-wing opposition candidate Guillermo Lasso to leave the country within a month.

"I cordially invite Mr Lasso to withdraw from Ecuador in the next 30 days (with or without his offshore millions)," Assange commented.

In August 2012, then Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Armando Patiño Aroca declared that Ecuador had granted Assange political asylum because of the threat represented by the US investigation against him and calls for his assassination by American politicians. Patiño confirmed that Assange, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, would live in the embassy of Ecuador in London.

Meanwhile, are the custodians of the left-wing legacy of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez about to bow out? There has been widespread international condemnation of events in the country, with the Organisation of American States talking of the "final blow to democracy" in Venezuela. Venezuela's chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, an ally of Maduro, became the first high-ranking official to criticise the judges.

Speaking on TV, she expressed "grave concern" about a measure which, she said, violated the constitution after the Supreme Court took over power from the National Assembly.

"Venezuela is in a state of crisis. Since early 2014, public frustration has been steadily rising over shortages of basic consumer goods and sky-rocketing inflation, which spiked at above 68 per cent last year and may reach 100 per cent by December 2015. The economy has contracted sharply and is expected to shrink further this year," wrote Patrick Duddy, director of the Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Duke University in the US.

"The Venezuelan government has become more authoritarian since Maduro's election in 2013. Anti-government demonstrations in February and March 2014 in response to inflation and shortages were repressed with force, resulting in several dozen killed, hundreds injured, and thousands arrested," he added.

The Organisation of American States has held an emergency meeting in which allies of Venezuela, such as Cuba, lent their support to Maduro. However, Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and others called for a return to the democratic order.

But the economic crisis in Venezuela is not of Maduro's making. Venezuela's left-leaning government has been sabotaged by successive administrations in Washington, with the economy being deliberately undermined by the local comprador classes. The country now has the world's highest inflation rate, which the International Monetary Fund predicts could reach 1,660 per cent next year. Long queues, power cuts and shortages of basic goods are common.

With the surge in power of the comprador class, the democratic decline of Venezuela will only gather speed. "This tactical retreat does not solve the underlying problem," opposition leader Freddy Guevara tweeted in Spanish, much to the chagrin of Maduro's supporters.

Guevara called on his supporters to "continue the fight for freedom" and to hold further protests in the capital Caracas on Saturday.

The National Assembly, controlled by right-wing and centre-right opposition parties, was sworn in in December 2016. Battered and weakened, Maduro has been struggling to stay in office. The Venezuelan electoral authorities have confirmed that the opposition won a two-thirds majority in the legislative elections, enabling it to challenge Maduro. It has said it will work to release jailed opposition leaders and address the country's economic crisis.

The shock of all this has been disquieting, and one government and three opposition members suspended because of alleged electoral irregularities were not allowed to take up their seats in the Assembly after the election. The “Bolivarian Revolution” launched by late president Hugo Chavez is being systematically undermined, with veteran opposition politician Henry Ramos Allup being voted speaker of the new Assembly.

For the time being, Maduro's supporters are keeping the comprador class at bay, and former speaker Diosdado Cabello has led a walk-out by pro-Maduro members over "the violation of internal regulations". Maduro's supporters have vowed to defend in parliament the left-wing programmes introduced by him and his predecessor Chavez.

Similar instability was seen in the Paraguayan capital Asunción after the country’s president, Horacio Cartes, last week moved to amend the constitution to allow him to be re-elected in 2018. Protesters stormed Paraguay’s Congress on Friday.

Cartes was first inaugurated as president in August 2013, and the country’s constitution has prohibited re-election of the president since 1992 in the aftermath of the ousting of former right-wing dictator Alfredo Stroessner. "Paraguayans have to go out on to the streets to defend democracy, which is under attack," Rafael Filizzola, a senator with the left-wing Democratic Progressive Party, said in Asunción.

"A coup has been carried out. We will resist, and we invite the people to resist with us," said Desirée Masi of the opposition Progressive Democratic Party

Venezuela and Paraguay are poles apart. Yet, in Paraguay and the rest of Latin America autocratic ambitions can now longer be tolerated and dictatorship must be resisted.

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